Rory McIlroy needs to do these 3 things to snap major drought, win 2024 U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy seems to have an extra pep in his step at Pinehurst No. 2 this week. Perhaps it’s because he and his wife, Erica, will not go through with their divorce and remain together as a family—a happy development for the McIlroys and the golfing world as a whole.

Nevertheless, as for his golf, McIlroy has played well this year. He has three worldwide wins, with his first coming in Dubai and his most recent one coming at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, two hours west of this week’s U.S. Open. He returns to North Carolina with a ton of confidence after tying for 12th at the PGA Championship. He also tied for 4th in Canada and then tied for 15th at the Memorial.

But he has not won a major championship since August 2014, when he fended off Phil Mickelson at Valhalla to win his fourth career major. This drought has no doubt bothered him, but he has a great chance to capture that fifth major this week.

Rory McIlroy, U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional.
Photo by Jim Watson/Getty Images

McIlroy even said he feels ‘closer than ever’ to doing so.

He hits the ball a mile off the tee, as many have called him the greatest driver of the golf ball the sport has ever seen. That will serve as a significant advantage on this 7,548-yard layout, with McIlroy hitting shorter clubs than most into these ‘turtleback greens.’

Yet, for him to win, the Northern Irishman must accomplish these three things:

3. Take advantage of the Par-5s

Pinehurst No. 2 has a pair of par-5s: the 588-yard 5th and the 617-yard 10th.

The 5th hole has one of the most diabolical greens on the property, with a severe false front. You cannot miss left there, either, something McIlroy has struggled with at times this season.

The 10th, meanwhile, is no slouch, either.

But McIlroy must rely on his length to take advantage of these holes, both of which present scoring opportunities. Martin Kaymer made two birdies and an eagle at the 5th, en route to his 8-shot victory at the 2014 U.S. Open.

The 10th, which has the largest green on the course, played as the third easiest hole in 2014.

U.S. Open, Pinehurst No. 2

The 5th hole at Pinehurst No. 2.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

And yet, despite his driving prowess, McIlroy ranks 61st on the PGA Tour in par-5 scoring this year. He has not taken advantage of scoring opportunities like he should have, much unlike Scottie Scheffler, who ranks first in this category.

McIlroy also failed to take advantage of the par-5s during last year’s final round at the Los Angeles Country Club, where he lost to Wyndham Clark by a stroke. McIlroy bogeyed the par-5 14th hole and played LACC’s three par-5s in even par on the day.

That cannot happen again if he wants to win this year, and considering very few opportunities present themselves on this course, taking advantage of the par-5s is a must.

2. Remain patient

From 2016 to 2018, McIlroy missed three straight cuts at the U.S. Open.

“I really struggled at U.S. Open setups, 2016, ‘17, ‘18 in particular,” McIlroy said Tuesday.

“I sort of had a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment after that, tried to really figure out why that was. Then my performances from 2019 and after that have been really, really good.”

McIlroy has been brilliant in the U.S. Open since then, tying for 9th, 8th, 7th, and 5th, then he finished solo second a year ago.

So what was that, “Come-to-Jesus moment?”

“I would say embrace the difficult conditions, embrace the style of golf needed to contend at a U.S. Open, embrace patience,” McIlroy said.

Rory McIlroy, U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy speaks to the media ahead of the 2024 U.S. Open.
Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

“Honestly, embrace what I would have called “boring” back in the day. Explosiveness isn’t going to win a U.S. Open. It’s more methodically building your score over the course of four days and being okay with that.”

Patience is key at Pinehurst No. 2 this week, and McIlroy knows he will need to remain patient all week. Easier said than done, however.

He cannot get aggressive into some of these hole locations, or else his ball will roll away from the greens. That could lead to a double-bogey, and to win U.S. Opens, you have to avoid double bogies and three-putts.

Players will make bogies, including McIlroy. But you can survive a bogey. You cannot survive anything worse.

1. Gain strokes on the field putting

The Country Club at Brookline, St. Andrews, and the Los Angeles Country Club are three courses where McIlroy could have ended his major drought over the past two years.

But his putter let him down.

He gave himself so many opportunities on those three courses but could not convert. That sentiment has also rang true this season, as McIlroy has struggled at times with the flat stick. He ranks 39th on tour in strokes gained, putting—certainly above average, but nothing to brag about.

At the PGA Championship, McIlroy ranked 50th in strokes gained putting—one week after he won the Wells Fargo Championship. He tied for 12th that week, on a course where he won his last major.

Rory McIlroy, U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy works with putting coach Brad Faxon on the 13th hole during a Wednesday practice round ahead of the 2024 U.S. Open.
Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA Tour via Getty Images

When he won by five shots at Quail Hollow, McIlroy gained more than four shots on the greens, ranking fourth among the field. He made plenty of putts, which was a big reason why he won.

So this week, McIlroy must make putts if he wants to win. Whoever putts the best and keeps their golf ball out of trouble will emerge victorious. But more specifically, McIlroy needs to make those four-to-eight footers, a distance where he ranks 66th on the PGA Tour this season. He has made 71% of his putts from that length this year, but that number needs to improve at this week’s U.S. Open.

Regardless, it all comes down to the putter for McIlroy, who, tee-to-green, is as talented as any player in the world. More specifically, he needs to convert on putts from within 10 feet because that alone will give him a leg up on the field.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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